Kristallnacht - Night of the Crystal Death opens in The Art Gallery at FGCU on Thursday, November 7. The portfolio of ten Erwin Eisch works published in North Carolina by Littleton Studios in Spruce Pine confronts the horror of a nationwide pogrom against German Jews that took place on the night of November 9, 1938.
During Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, the Nazis launched their crusade against German Jews, destroying more than seven thousand Jewish businesses and 191 synagogues. One of those synagogues was in a tiny town by the name of Karlsruhe in southwestern Germany that was founded in 1715 by Margrave Karl Wilhelm.
When he founded the town, Karl Wilhelm opened the settlement to people of all races and creeds. According to Rescuing DaVinci author Robert M. Edsel, "this was a rare luxury, especially for Jews, who were relegated to Jewish-only neighborhoods throughout most of Eastern Europe." While the climate of religious temperance did not last long, many of Karlsruhe's Jews were able over the ensuing centuries to build thriving businesses as merchants and manufacturers.
Karlsruhe had two synagogues by the time Hitler became Chancellor. "The Kronenstrasse Synagogue was a large, ornate hundred-year-old building," relates Edsel in The Monuments Men. "The worship center soared four floors into a series of decorated domes - four floors was the maximum allowable height, for no building in Karlsruhe could be higher than the tower of Karl Wilhelm's palace."
The Kronenstrasse Synagogue was the site on September 24, 1938 of Harry Ettlinger's bar mitzvah. The synagogue was filled to capacity and in the middle of the three hour service, young Harry read aloud from the Torah, singing the passages in ancient Hebrew as had been done for thousands of years. "This was a ceremony to honor his passage into adulthood, his hope for the future," writes Edsel, "but for so many, the chance for a life in Karlsruhe seemed lost. The jobs were gone; the Jewish community was shunned and harassed; Hitler was daring the western powers to oppose him."
Harry was one of the lucky 5,000 who were granted visas to emigrate to the United States. Exactly one month after his arrival at Ellis Island, the Nazis used the assassination of a German diplomat to launch their crusade to remove all Jews from Germany and eradicate Jewry worldwide. "The magnificent hundred-year-old Kronenstrasse Synagogue, where only weeks before Heinz Ludwig Chaim Ettlinger had celebrated his bar mitzvah, was burned to the ground," Edsel writes. "Harry Ettlinger was the last boy ever to have his bar mitzvah ceremony in the old synagogue of Karlsruhe."
But Harry Ettlinger was destined to return to Karlsruhe after the war. Not as a tourist, but as a member of the Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives section of the Civil Affairs branch of the Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories, a joint operation between the United States and Britain. It was the job of the MFAA to locate the hundreds of repositories that the Nazis had established throughout Europe for the hundreds of thousands of artistic treasures they had looted from Jews and conquered nations between 1933 and 1945. A German-Jew, Ettlinger became a translator in the MFAA.
Ettlinger was on hand when the MFAA interviewed Hitler's close personal friend, photographer and art dealer Heinrich Hoffman. Ettlinger was in Berchtesgaden, where Reichsmarschall Herman Goering and other high Nazi officials had hidden portions of their stolen artworks. Ettlinger stood in the Fuhrer's living room in the Berghof, staring through the enormous window where Hitler had so often surveyed his vast 1,000-year Reich. And Ettlinger was at Neuschwanstein to help inventory and remove the incredible treasures that the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg fur die Besetzten Gebiete (ERR) had secreted away in room after room of Mad Ludwig's Bavarian castle.
But Ettlinger's sojourn was ordained to come full circle seven hundred feet below the earth's surface in a salt mine in Heibronn, where he was tasked with retrieving art objects from more than 40,000 cases the ERR had placed below ground. That's where he found and brought to the surface the famous stained glass windows from Strasbourg Cathedral in France. And that's where he recovered a self-portrait by Rembrandt that had hung in the museum in Karlsruhe, just three blocks from where he'd once lived. Ironically, it was a painting he'd often heard about but which he wasn't allowed to see because Jews were barred from the museum. At Heilbronn, he held the antiquity in his hands.
"My knowledge of the Holocaust started really with the realization that it was not only the taking of lives, but the taking of all their belongings," Harry would say later. To which Edsel adds, "More than anything, the Nazis robbed families of their livelihoods, their opportunities, their heirlooms, their momentos, of the things that identified them and defined them as human beings."
And therein lies the importance of remembering an event like Kristallnacht. Only by learning the lessons of history can we hope to avoid a repeat of history.
Kristallnacht - Night of the Crystal Death opens with a 5:00 p.m. Gallery Talk and 6:00 p.m. reception on Wednesday, November 7. The exhibition will remain on exhibition through November 21, 2013. The gallery is located in the Arts Complex at 10501 S. FGCU Boulevard on the Florida Gulf Coast University campus. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 4-8 p.m. on Nights with Art. For more information, please contact Gallery Coordinator Anica Sturdivant at 239-590-7199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.